The Ballard Talisman

Unconventional production takes stage

Students produce musical, taking an interest in theatre to the next step

Seniors+Alia+Collins-+Friedrichs+and+Duncan+Bozko+play+moderator+Rona+Peretti+and+Vice+Principal+Douglas+Panch%2C+respectively.+Their+wry+commentary+and+humorous+vocabulary+sets+the+stage+for+the+show.+
Seniors Alia Collins- Friedrichs and Duncan Bozko play moderator Rona Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, respectively. Their wry commentary and humorous vocabulary sets the stage for the show.

Seniors Alia Collins- Friedrichs and Duncan Bozko play moderator Rona Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, respectively. Their wry commentary and humorous vocabulary sets the stage for the show.

Greta Rainbow

Greta Rainbow

Seniors Alia Collins- Friedrichs and Duncan Bozko play moderator Rona Peretti and Vice Principal Douglas Panch, respectively. Their wry commentary and humorous vocabulary sets the stage for the show.

Greta Rainbow, Managing editor

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Three girls and three boys run in a circle on stage, while singing that the word “cow” is unfair in a spelling bee. Their director yells “slower” and the actors agree; in this production, the entertainers and those in charge are a fluid force, with the difference in age and experience removed.

For every year they have been in high school, seniors Gillian Yaple and Alia Collins-Friedrichs have been in drama and choir. This year, they are producing their own musical

Co-producers Yaple and Collins-Friedrichs chose “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” after seeing it at the Fringe Festival in Scotland. “It’s been a favorite show of ours for awhile, so we decided for our senior year that we were just going to try and put on a show,” Collins-Friedrichs said.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is a musical comedy with a minimal premise and set: an eclectic group of students gather for the bee, run by a peculiar group of administrators. The characters become increasingly charming as they divulge their back stories through musical numbers.

Director Maleah Metz is the oldest one behind the scenes of the musical, as she is in her first year of college. Yaple and Collins-Friedrichs approached her about directing, and she describes the production as the pair’s senior project.

Yaple and Collins-Friedrichs also directly approached the show’s actors, rather than compiling a cast through traditional auditions. “The choir and theatre group is really tight and we wanted people that we knew would work well together,” Collins-Friedrichs said.

The producers looked for “people we knew that would take their own responsibility for the show,” with the short rehearsal time (the play opens in January) and lack of adult instruction. “We wanted to make sure we had people in the cast who would do the work on their own to memorize their lines and practice their music,” Collins-Friedrichs said.

Olive Ovstrovsky, played by junior Camaira Metz, befriended a dictionary at a young age. She sings about the neglect in her life while spellers look on from the bleachers.

Greta Rainbow
Olive Ovstrovsky, played by junior Camaira Metz, befriended a dictionary at a young age. She sings about the neglect in her life while spellers look on from the bleachers.

The cast is composed of six spellers, the spelling bee’s moderator, a principal, two comfort counselors, and four audience volunteers per show that join the spellers.

“The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” is peppered with individual numbers (one features an ode to a character’s “magic foot”) as well as full-cast songs. In “Pandemonium,” spellers unleash their pent-up emotions surrounding the Bee, expressing their inner tumult through eruptions of energy. As the cast sings about chaos with the refrain “Life is pandemonium,” they demonstrate this visually by running around the stage, eventually ending on the ground.

Arguably the show’s most interesting facet is the element of improvisation. Every night, the producers ask four audience members in the lobby to act as spellers who were “late for registration,” and join the cast on stage.

Junior Jasper Cote, who plays the charmingly inept Leaf Coneybear, interacts with the surprise cast additions as they sit in their seats, listening to the other spellers. He wishes them well as their names are called, and Rona Peretti’s (Collins-Friedrichs) introductory quips (“This speller’s favorite color is corduroy”) lead them to the microphone.

“For me it’s not so hard [to improvise], it’s really fun because if you can communicate with somebody else using improvisation, you get even more into your character because you’re thinking on your feet and you’re thinking as this character would with somebody else who doesn’t know what the hell you’re doing or who the hell you are,” Cote said. “For that, I think it actually strengthens the whole thing.”

Another new production aspect is the lack of direction from an adult supervisor. Rehearsal is devoid of Director of Theatre Shaun Riley’s critiques and replaced by Metz’s. “With other productions I strive to please the director,” Cote said. “In this, it’s about pleasing yourself and your friends because it is a creative project that you’re doing together, instead of just a job.”

Metz recognizes the distinction. “After 2:30 I am not your friend, I am your director,” Metz said.

Regardless, the cast is obviously close, close enough to know one another’s quirks and nuances. At rehearsal, the music begins but the vocals are absent due to a missing singer. Metz mouths, “Brian,” in explanation, eyes to the rafters, and the actors laugh; they’re used to it. At one point the spellers link arms, in accordance with the choreography. But it would not be a surprise to see the cast walking like this in real life.

Yaple and Collins-Friedrichs have been experimenting with the logistical side of producing a musical. Demands of the creative process aside, the two need to coordinate an orchestra, organize the auditorium space, and pay for the rights of the play. Life really is pandemonium.

Sophomores Diego Roberts Buceta and Remy Martin Anderson act as “comforter counselors,” ex-convicts serving community service time at the Bee. Roberts Buceta and Martin Anderson serenade spellers off the stage when they spell a word incorrectly.

Greta Rainbow
Sophomores Diego Roberts Buceta and Remy Martin Anderson act as “comforter counselors,” ex-convicts serving community service time at the Bee. Roberts Buceta and Martin Anderson serenade spellers off the stage when they spell a word incorrectly.

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Unconventional production takes stage